HHS Announces Long-awaited Request for Outreach Grant Proposals – Say Ahhh! A Children’s Health Policy Blog

Yesterday HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Medicaid Director Cindy Mann announced the department’s “Request for Proposals (RFP)” for a first round of outreach grants funded through CHIP reauthorization. Find more information here about this long awaited announcement.
It’s encouraging that in the RFP the department has embraced a more appropriate definition of outreach which is “extending benefits or services” to a broader population.  Outreach may incorporate but is not synonymous with marketing and communications.  In this case, ensuring that eligible children get and stay enrolled as a result of outreach and enrollment efforts is a focal point of the grants.
It will come as no surprise if you’ve read my other blog entries that I’m thrilled to note that innovative applications of technology to facilitate enrollment and retention are encouraged in the RFP.  Web-based applications and telephone processes for enrollment and renewals, along with increasing ways for families to pay premiums, are examples of potential activities.  And to ensure that grants are successful in identifying best practices, grantees will be required to provide sound data demonstrating the connection between outreach efforts and enrollment and retention. To these ends, grant funds can be used to make data and systems improvements that are appropriate in the context of the proposed outreach strategies.
It seems that HHS is on the right track but this is a significant undertaking on an expedited timeline with proposals due in barely a month.  While a number of entities from government, community-based nonprofit and faith-based organizations to schools and safety net providers are eligible to apply, collaboration between the state and non-state applicants is strongly encouraged.  Stakeholders and advocates should weigh in with their state agencies to promote this spirit of collaboration.  After all, the best outreach efforts engage many partners in the process.
The outreach grants along with enhanced funding for translation and interpretation services, increased federal matching funds for certain systems changes, as well as performance bonuses for adopting streamlined enrollment and retention strategies and meeting Medicaid enrollment targets, provide new tools and resources to states and stakeholders to achieve our country’s coverage goals.
Getting and keeping kids enrolled also helps prepare us for health care reform.  The lessons learned under an administration that wants to support and identify innovative practices in outreach and enrollment will add to our knowledge of how the system needs to be reformed. We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of a system that burdens families and state agencies with paperwork, creates administrative inefficiencies and serves as a deterrent to enrollment.

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